Bethany is a reporter for the Te Awamutu Courier

Turn trash to treasure in Te Awamutu

It is estimated every New Zealander creates an average of 19kg of e-waste a year.
It is estimated every New Zealander creates an average of 19kg of e-waste a year.

A social enterprise will turn Te Awamutu's trash into treasure following a public e-waste collection day this Saturday, March 3.

Farewell your unwanted e-waste — anything with a plug or a battery — in Te Awamutu and have it transported to South Waikato Achievement Trust (SWAT) in Tokoroa.

Staff members dismantle TVs, microwaves and computers.
Staff members dismantle TVs, microwaves and computers.

SWAT employs local people, many with disabilities, to dismantle and recover e-waste.

The Courier visited SWAT to see where Te Awamutu's e-waste will end up.

The site at 12 Thompson Street in Tokoroa is like an electronic graveyard.

Dead washing machines and fridges line up in the yard waiting to be pulled apart.

Pieces of scrap metal are squashed into compressed blocks.

This is what four or five dishwashers look like after being processed and bailed.
This is what four or five dishwashers look like after being processed and bailed.

Friendly staff armed with screwdrivers, drills and hammers are busy dismantling and sorting electronics.

Around 95 per cent of the weight of the items is recovered.

Salvaged materials, like copper and gold, are sold to national companies and used to create different products — an electronic reincarnation.

Circuit boards are sold whole and lead glass is used to make bathroom tiles.

It is estimated every New Zealander creates an average of 19kg of e-waste a year.
It is estimated every New Zealander creates an average of 19kg of e-waste a year.

SWAT accepts anything from an old brick Nokia 2280 to portable spa pools.

One of the most common items is large CRT TVs — the TV before the days of flat-screens.

Supervisor Joe Mataafa Setu is surprised to see a steady stream always arriving.

I was invited to bring a piece of my own e-waste along, so offered up my husband's dusty Pixma iP3300 printer.

Unwanted printers are common items at SWAT, says the site's enterprise development advisor Gary Olney.

"When it comes to buying more ink for your printer it's often cheaper to just buy a new printer," he says.

"People are becoming more cost conscious, so they'll often just take the cheaper option, whatever that is."

The old, fully-functioning printers are given the boot by consumers, replaced by a shiny new one with fully-stocked ink.

"People are constantly upgrading their electronics," Gary says.

"You can buy a new TV, and the first ad you watch when you get home is an advert for the upgraded version."

Waipa District Council waste minimisation officer Sally Fraser and South Waikato Achievement Trust enterprise development advisor Gary Olney check out bailed plastic.
Waipa District Council waste minimisation officer Sally Fraser and South Waikato Achievement Trust enterprise development advisor Gary Olney check out bailed plastic.

Items that aren't built to last or people who cannot fix their electronics contribute to New Zealand's e-waste problem.

And the problem is only getting worse.

It is estimated every New Zealander creates an average of 19kg of e-waste a year.

That number is expected to rise to 26.9kg per person by 2030, according to the Ministry for the Environment.

My husband's printer was swiftly dismantled by staff member Brian Norton, who salvage a few small pieces.

E-waste dismantler Brian Norton pulls apart the Pixma iP3300 printer.
E-waste dismantler Brian Norton pulls apart the Pixma iP3300 printer.

Before working at SWAT, Brian had been on a benefit. Now he's been employed for almost three years.

Brian will have the task of dismantling and sorting the e-waste from the collection day in Te Awamutu.

The event will prevent electronics from going to the landfill, says Waipa District Council's waste minimisation officer Sally Fraser.

Sally says the event will encourage people to do something better with their e-waste.
"It's not about blaming people or making them feel bad," she says.

"It's about offering people a new option and making it easy and accessible."

Te Awamutu's e-waste community collection day is at 214 Churchill Street (behind the Events Centre) on Saturday, March 3, 10am to 1pm.

The cost is $5-$10 per item of e-waste. Smaller items are free.

Te Awamutu Community Board is subsidising the cost of each item to make it more affordable for residents. The fee is required because the e-waste has to undergo more processing than standard recycling.

- Te Awamutu Courier

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